This lecture was a feast for the eyes! Charles led us through an array of stunning images illustrating Chihuly’s amazing works whilst explaining the techniques involved in creating some of his magnificent glass sculptures. It was evident that Charles was also a huge fan of Chihuly’s work as he talked in measured tones, pausing now and again to let the audience gaze for a while on these great works of art with an undeniable ‘wow’ factor.
Although often called ‘the world's greatest living artist’, many of those present may not have known his name but would certainly recognise his work. He made the magnificent 30ft chandelier that hangs in the lobby of the V&A museum in London (which I was lucky enough to see again on a visit a few days after the talk) and the “Fiori di Como,” the glass sculpture that hangs from the ceiling in Bellagio’s lobby. We marvelled at the sculpture, consisting of 2,000 hand-blown glass blossoms that weigh about 40,000 pounds, and wondered at the strength of the support structure. Do people ever get impaled by a piece of glass?
Charles described how Chihuly single-handedly changed the glass world with his elaborate and extraordinary works. Despite the fact that he lost the sight of his left eye in 1976 in a head-on car collision, Chihuly and his team of glassblowers continue to push the limits of molten glass in his Seattle ‘hot shop’.
Those of us who didn’t see the 15 enormous chandeliers, placed under bridges and across the Venetian canals in 1996, envy those present who had attended what would undoubtedly have been an unforgettable experience. The sheer scale of some of the sculptures is breath-taking, but Charles also showed how Chihuly worked on a smaller scale when he created glass-thread drawings on vessels inspired by Native American textiles.
My favourite piece (and one that is on my personal ‘bucket list’) is the Icicle Creek Chandelier, Chihuly’s first permanent outdoor installation. Made up of 1,200 parts, it is situated at the eco-friendly Sleeping Lady Retreat in Leavenworth, Washington, and was installed by a huge team of engineers and specialists in 20 degree below zero weather and snow. A gigantic sculpture rising majestically out of the ground, bursting in an icy explosion, but blending organically with the landscape as if it had been there since time immemorial.
Since 2002 Chihuly has been honoured with a permanent exhibition in the city of his birth, Tacoma, at the Museum of Glass which features a pedestrian walkway - the Bridge of Light - adorned with his sculptures. If only we could arrange a NADFAS trip!
Review by Jo Ward